Saturday, 5 May 2012

Thank you and goodbye

'If you've said all you've to say..'

After some consideration I've decided to bring this blog to an end. It's been around three years since I left my job in social care to embark on my masters in social policy and research.  I have now completed my masters and am currently job hunting. Initially my interest, what in fact led me to the course, was in social policy, but during the course I developed a much greater interest (and got better marks) in social research. This backs up my theory that you simply just can't plan life!

I still have a passionate interest in social care and social policy, but as Cast put it I feel that over the course of this blog I have said all I've got to say. I've set out my position on Individual budgets (cautiously pro), on carers pay (far too low and as a consequence detrimental to quality) and on the state of local government  (that unbeknownst to most of us it's disappeared in a tangled web of outsourcing and is a fundamentally different beast.)

It is one of the frustrations of social care that the same issues seem to be going round with no resolution. Three years ago it seemed to me that the system was not fit for purpose and the funding arrangements unsustainable yet despite much talk change doesn't seem to be arriving anytime soon - in fact after some interest around the last election it's slipped back down the agenda.

If I could change one thing it is this; I believed that all people working in social care need to look at the whole system and take a stand. I saw many colleagues apathetically shrug their shoulders when it came to things like carers pay and status, or residential care funding arrangements, yet they would bemoan the slipping in standards of care. We should not be afraid to debate these things in the open.

I have contributed my opinions, formed from my five years on the frontline, from being a 'receptionist' answering the phone to a care manager drawing up care plans, but now I am out of touch and feel I can no longer effectively contribute.

I urge you all to now make yourselves heard and leave it to Cast to play me out.



It feels wrong to go without thanks to all who have read, contributed, and subscribed to this blog.In particular CB of Fighting Monsters, one of the best Social Work blogs out there. CB was for me the model of a thoughtful, reflective professional and the end of Fighting Monsters
was a sad moment indeed. CB also encouraged me to stay on my masters at a time when I had doubts and I am so thankful for this and the support they gave my blog through links and tweets.

a particular mention to Rentergirl too. An excellent an essential blog. Like social care housing policy has been marked by decades of inaction and mounting crisis Rentergirl is therefore a much needed voice and has also been a great friend of this blog.

I wish you all the very best.



Friday, 30 March 2012

ONS Data - Trends in Local Government Confirmed.

For a while now I've been banging on about the future of local government. Being involved with an authority at the time it entered an outsourcing deal with Capita whilst simultaneously looking to jettison leisure centres, road maintenance and street lighting I saw a trend which would leading to a new kind of organisation appearing.

What I saw was a kind of 'slimeline' local authority not dissimilar to a what has been perhaps more fashionably referred to as a 'virtual council.' This organisation consists of a rump of professionals primarily concerned with the functions of strategic management, contracting and enforcement.

Strategic management and contracting are in many ways combined and if anything these areas will grow in our new local authority. Contracting involves the business of drawing-up, tendering as well as administering contracts on a day-to-day issue-by-issue basis whilst strategic management involves the setting of the over-arching priorities for outsourced departments and providing a link with elected officials.

'Enforcement' includes functions, such as environmental health, licencing and planning. These areas stay under the umbrella of the Local Authority due to the conflicts of interest which would clearly be present if they were carried out by a contractor. Also included is high-end social work. I say high-end meaning not routine work such as assessing for meals-on-wheels, day care, or even home care, but work such as safeguarding investigations and dealing with more complex cases as well as children's services which require the involvement of qualified social workers. This will stay in-house for two reasons; firstly the strength of the profession, but most importantly it is the sensitive nature of these activities which would make it politically problematic to outsource them.  

Outside these areas everything is up for grabs. Medium to long-term all authorities are heading towards this new model in various stages. It is also a process of one-way drift as bringing services back 'in-house' would prove costly and infinitely complex as whole sections have been handed over to the private sector along with all the systems, experience and knowledge they encompass. Unless this were handed back the cost alone would be prohibitive in many cases.

But what evidence is there of this? Much of it so far has been simply been anecdotal. My experiences of being up-close to this process and having the opportunity to ask questions on the inside have given me a sense of what is happening, but still this is in one area.

The latest ONS data on public/private sector earnings however has provided some clear evidence of this process. In their analysis they find that making a straight comparison of median earnings by sector is difficult as the skill levels are different.

Over time the public sector has outsourced some jobs to the private sector. While some of this
outsourcing has involved contracting out higher skill jobs to the private sector, for example,
Information Technology (IT) support, much of the outsourcing that has occurred has been in lower skilled jobs, for example, cleaning. The result of this outsourcing has been to take many of the low skilled jobs that would have been carried out in the public sector and transfer them to the private sector.

This is of course a finding which is highly consistent with the 'streamline' hypothesis. If the trend is for local government, or indeed the public sector in general, is to recede to this professional rump then this is what we would expect to see - a higher concentration of high-skilled 'professionals.'

Anyone fancy funding a PHD?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Remploy - A step forward or a step back?

Sadly its far from  unusual these days to read a story about 1 700 being put out of work, but it is a little strange to be asking whether this is in fact a good thing, but so it is in the case of Remploy who employ a workforce comprising mainly of disabled people.

Remploy is in many ways an eerie crystalisation of the eclipsing of what academics refer to as a 'Fordist' welfare state; one characterised by one-size standardised services, overwhelmingly provided by state buracracies.  

In a 'post-fordist' welfare state services provided not by a bulky and buracratic state monolith, but by a range of providers usually in the private or voluntary sector and are tailored, personalised and customised to meet the needs of individuals who themselves take a much greater role in planning their support.

The Remploy model, of subsidised factories belongs therefore to a time which is passing and maybe we should be glad of this.

 On one hand it arguably serves to segregate disabled people from mainstream society into a box with limited horizons. Why shouldnt a disabled person have the right to career aspirations beyond whats on offer in a Remploy factory? Whatsmore if the reported 'average subsidy' of £25 000 a year is anything to go on then Remploy hardly seems to represent value for money. Certainly that amount could buy a lot of support for individuals and educate a lot of employers about the benefits of adopting more disability friendly practices.

Small wonder then that some sections of the disability movement seem to be welcoming the axe which looks set to fall, but at the same time is their are a number of issues.

The practical issues are will personalised support deliver better outcomes? Will it free individuals, or will it isolate and trap them either in unemployment, or in unsuitable, demeaning, or degrading employment.

The most crucial question however, is how do the 1 700 affected individuals feel about this? Have they been consulted and listened to in the debate about their future, or in the rush to create a brave new world of welfare are the same mistakes being made by those who critique the past for its failings in this respect.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Experience - worth more than pay?

About 10 years ago emerging optimistically from the closeted world of education for the first time I became aware of something rather dispiriting. Its ink barely dry my shiny new degree certificate suddenly seemed to be rendered worthless by one simple word.... 'experience'

It seemed I possessed none, or at least not enough for a junior position temping in an office. I was told this again and again that I needed 'experience' usually by some suited and booted person my own age who had the nous to get straight out into the workplace rather than mess around doing something as pointless as a degree in sociology.

Eventually I managed to get a break, courtesy of my local council's temp bank, but only after a long time doing things from weighing out bags of onions to stuffing junk mail in sacks. At the time I reflected that for people in my position experience was the new pay. The internships which became a rite of passage for many graduates were symptomatic of this logic, the logic which decreed that experience in itself was now a valuable commodity and therefore its own reward displacing pay.

Strangely we had the whole debate on internships not so long ago, which concluded that they were in fact a bad thing being just a touch exploitative now we have another debate over unpaid work this time at the opposite end of the scale.  

Watching the debate on the news media it seems no one has really linked the two, possibly as internships represent privilege just as much as they do exploitation. A number of those who can afford to work for free ultimately get rewarded with a passport to sought-after jobs that their less-well-off, or less well connected peers become shut out of.

whilst this social divisiveness doesn't seem so much an issue at the other end of the scale, in fact you can even argue that by providing opportunities to the least well off it is closing the gap the big problem with both schemes is that they accept the logic that for those without, or lacking it 'experience' is worth more than pay.

 If these schemes really did take root then the expectation will be that if people will do them for free, for experience, then there is really no need to pay for other people to do the jobs. Like internships the expectation that a period of unpaid employment is required before an offer of paid work is made can then become de reigeur.

 This is all the more problematic with entry-level jobs as it is not a case of exploiting the children of elites who are financially well off, but who wish to climb to the top of the ladder, it is exploiting the poorest and most vulnerable. It is this which leaves a sour taste and if someone is making a profit from the free-labour then it is even more distasteful.

I should point out here that I once flirted with SWP ideals, even going as far as accepting a SWP sticker of a clenched fist from a freshers fayre in 1998 proudly sticking it on my guitar alongside a Terrorvision sticker. However, only a few years later I could be found vigorously scrubbing both off.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

What has become of the public sector...

Nice to see that some sort of research (albeit very imperfect research) is finally being done on the scale of outsourcing in the public sector. The fact remains however, that we still don't actually know the extent to which what was known as the public sector has been impacted by outsourcing.

Fully determining this is an enormously  complicated business, and one which will get even more so. For instance take someone employed by Capita who is assessing Housing Benefit claims on behalf of a Local Authority. Sure they're not a public sector worker, but neither are they a private sector worker in the traditional sense - after all the way they do much of their job and the funding for it is still provided by the LA. Even more complicated if the person in question is working for multiple clients across the sectors, or who is not providing services directly, but is providing auxiliary services to those who do......

What's happening is a more complex hybridisation than a simple public/private, or even public/private/third dichotomy. In fact I'd go as far as saying that our understandings of the word 'sector' need to be thrown away.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Personalisation Risk and ResponsibilitySome interesting reports

Following on from my last post I've just happened across some reports from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the topic of rights an responsibilities. There is a particularly interesting discussion about risk in one paper which has actually pushed me a little closer to the pro camp on personalisation. Interestingly the paper draws a conclusion that under a system of personalisation;

Risk should be shared between the person who takes the risk and the system that is trying to support them. This has probably always been the case and in many ways the personalisation agenda simply makes this more explicit, shifting the balance of power and making genuine risk sharing more likely in future.

What of course is missing from the discussions is what such an overt cultural shift would be likely to mean. As I mentioned in the previous post the logical end-point is that there is a much reduced role for 'social services' as we know it today - particularly as a large part of care management is concerned with assessing for and managing risk.

Perhaps in terms of complex cases and at times of crisis there will still be some role, but for the rest of the time it is much diminished even possibly redundant.

Is this a good, or bad thing? In some respects it is good, it empowers individuals to make their own decisions and choices and yes, social care needs a cultural change. When I returned to university to study social policy I remember being sat in the canteen and seeing a social work student - discernable by the hoodie they wore. It is something of a fashion for people to wear hoodies with some kind of subject related double entendre on the back i.e 'Lawyers do it without briefs' or somesuch thing, but in this case it was a rather earnest 'Social Work; Be the difference.' Maybe I'm wrong, maybe its a noble sentiment, but for me it had a smack of arrogance and seemed to re-enforce the view of professional/service user divide. We should also not lose sight of the fact that the system is there to meet a need, i.e it is a means, not an end - therefore we have no interest in protecting the current system for its own sake.

On the other hand though there is an issue of the balance between rights and responsibilities which personalisation makes more clear. If we take a long-term view then it is possible to see a future in which it is the assumption that social care in most cases is largely a private matter, for individuals- a view which provides a platform for further retrenchment of the state from the social care sector. Maybe this too is a good thing; are private services more responsive to individuals needs, would the voluntary sector better anticipate needs and be better at providing innovative services, or would such a change be merely to abandon those in need to the vagaries of the free market?

I make no judgement on any of this at present. The debates are many, complex and fragmented (as my own dissertation on organisational mission across the three sectors finds), the key point though is that the debate on the future of social care needs to pay far more consideration to the likely implications of changes in assumptions around rights and responsibilities particularly around the movement of responsibility from the state to the individual.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Social Care: Rights and Responsibilities

So this week brings a few more stories about the search a funding solution in social care. We all agree(and have done for quite a while) that the present system is not the best, but often as is the way with these things there seems to be less appetite for proposing real alternatives.

When it comes to alternatives and reform of the system there is a clear direction which debate has been taking over the past two decades, consisting of two interrelated dimensions these being; just how much are we expecting people to A.) take responsibility for their care and B.) contribute financially towards it.

In terms of A.) the popular policy term these days used across all aspects of the welfare state is 'co-production'- one of the best examples of co-production being individual budgets where people take an active role in managing services, not just the passive role of recipient.There are, it is to be said, lots of good things about individual budgets, but I always felt this policy agenda amounted to a much bigger cultural change than most of my colleagues ever really acknowledged, one involving a fundamental rewriting of the contract between service user and the state (or social services department).

Having just read Tony Blair's autobiography it seems co-production fits snugly with the emphasis on 'rights and responsibilities.' Ultimately in social care we're not just in effect handing over rights of control of care packages to individuals, but along with it all the responsibilities in terms of managing risk and ensuring the appropriateness of services to meet needs. Whilst the state still funds services, particularly for those without the resources, the logical end-point is for it to play only a limited role in assisting individuals with making choices from the mixed economy of welfare - in other words guiding the purchase, or accessing of services from the private and voluntary sectors.

I was even involved a few years ago in a pilot self-assessment project which had the aim of cutting out the middleman completely - imagine a system where a person completes an assessment form this is then approved by the social services department and a budget allocated which is paid into the persons bank account allowing them to source their care individually.It was for many reasons a failure (though these were little to do with the principle of the plan) and eventually it ran out of steam, but it was I felt ahead of its time.

So we have here a future where we have moved from a pre 1990 ACT situation where Local Authorities controlled every aspect of care from funding, assessment, management, provision of and to an extent regulation of services to a fully post-90 world where it funds care (in some cases) but to which all other functions have been delegated to individual service users, the private and voluntary sectors and an external regulator.

It may seem something of a distraction to discuss all this in terms of funding, but the way in which social care is organised and funded are more closely aligned than has been credited. For instance in a system like the one set out above where individuals are agreed to have greater responsibilities and where social services departments play a limited role in facilitating choice, rather than actually assessing for, regulating and providing services this allows a greater scope for the development of private insurance as social care becomes largely a financial issue with individual budgets also providing fertile ground for the growth of a much more extensive market in care services to replace what were local monopolies of state provided services.

The question increasingly asked will be should individuals plan for care needs in the same way as they are expected to for retirement? should they for instance take out private insurance. If so what should be the role of the state in facilitating this - should it make such insurance compulsory (such an idea was in fact mooted a few years ago), should it subsidise, incentivise or regulate this market? Most importantly would such a market function? We know the case of pensions is just as problematic with many being unable, or unwilling to save.

It seems the debate is simple, but the answers are not.